Baseball: Surge in power carries Greenport senior to home run title

John Drinkwater of Greenport led all of Suffolk County in home runs this season. (Credit: Daniel De Mato, file)
John Drinkwater of Greenport led all of Suffolk County in home runs this season. (Credit: Daniel De Mato, file)

As the Greenport Porters’ season progressed, every at-bat for senior John Drinkwater became an event in itself. Forget the score, forget the standings, all eyes trained on Drinkwater as he stepped into the batter’s box.

Where was he about to hit the next ball? 

In his three years on varsity before this year, Drinkwater had never hit a home run in a Porters uniform. He had a few on his travel team, but was still looking for that elusive varsity homer. Based on his play during the summer and at the end of last season, Drinkwater sensed he had a growing ability to hit for power.

Still, he couldn’t have imagined just how this season would unfold.

Drinkwater ended the season with six home runs, the most in Suffolk County, according to stats reported to Newsday throughout the year.

“It’s always great to see anyone succeed, let alone your own brother,” said Matt Drinkwater, John’s twin. “It was really exciting. Every time he got up to the plate, all eyes were on him. At any time, he could have done something special.”

A switch-hitter who hit primarily left-handed this year, John’s first well-struck ball ended up as a triple, he said. In the team’s season-opening series against Southold in March, John crushed a ball into the outfield, but the field had no fence. John raced to third on the play, but didn’t have time to make it all the way home against the strong arms of Southold’s outfielders.

“At that point I realized I could really hit for power if I keep making contact,” John said.

He made plenty of contact the rest of the season, hitting for an average above .600. He hit five home runs out of the park and one inside the park. His final home run came against Smithtown Christian in late April.

Hitting home runs can change a player’s approach at the plate, sometimes for the worse. John said as the home runs started to pile up early in the season, he had to focus on not overdoing it at the plate.

“I had to focus on making contact and know that if I make contact, the ball will go far,” he said.

John, who pitches and plays first base as well as a little outfield, was rewarded with all-county honors for his outstanding season. Matt, who also pitches and plays the infield, received all-league honors.

While the brothers have always been competitive with each other, Matt said he wasn’t going to change his approach at the plate to try to match John’s power surge.

“We’ve always kind of been a little different in that way,” Matt said. “He’s been more of a power hitter and I’m more of a contact hitter.”

Throughout the season, the Greenport baseball players constantly kept tabs on the home run leaders in the county. Early in the season, John had a big lead, before other players started to catch up, Matt said.

“It became like its own playoff race,” he said.

John finished one home run ahead of Brett Malm of Patchogue-Medford. Eight players hit four home runs, including James Nish of Mattituck. Tucker Hahn of Island Trees led all Long Island players with 8 home runs.

John and Matt, who also played football and basketball, plan to attend Wagner College on Staten Island beginning this fall. For all their accolades in sports, they may be even better known for their theatrical performances. They were accepted into the prestigious theater program at Wagner. “Out of the whole country, they accept 10 guys a year and both me and my brother got accepted,” John said.

Baseball could still be on the horizon. John said they have been in contact with Wagner’s baseball coach, who has encouraged them to keep in touch. Wagner competes in the Northeast Conference in Division I, so competition to get on the team is intense.

Looking back on his high school career, John said the best part was the camaraderie between all his teammates.

“What I always tell the young guys is enjoy the friendships that you make during these seasons,” he said. “Because that’s what’s really going to stick with you forever.”

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